Finger Lakes Riesling and Alsatian Salmon

Seneca Lake at Dusk, demerzel21, Adobe Stock

Finger Lakes Riesling and Alsatian Salmon

The group with Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) is heading to New York.  To the Finger Lakes to be specific. On Saturday June 13th there will be a gathering on twitter following the hashtag #WinePW to discuss the region, it’s wines and our pairings.  We will be led by Linda Whipple of My Full Wine Glass and you can read here invitation post here.

I will admit, that while I know about the region, I don’t think I have ever had a wine from the Finger Lakes.  Time to remedy that!  What wine did I pick up?  Well I figured I should start with the wine they are most known for, which is Riesling.

Where are the Finger Lakes?

New York AVA Map
New York AVA Map; courtesy of

The Finger Lakes AVA is located in the western part of New York State.  South of Rochester, North of Elmira, East of Buffalo and South West of Syracuse.  Here you find a series of lakes carved out by glaciers.  They are called the finger lakes and look as if they could have been clawed out by a giant hand.

The Finger Lakes AVA was established in 1982. There are 2 sub AVAs; Cayuga Lake, established in 1988 and Seneca Lake, established in 2003.  

The grapes of the region; Riesling and so much more

There are over 9,000 acres under vine, and about a 10th of that is Riesling, with most producers making Riesling in multiple styles.  In addition to riesling you find Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.  But it doesn’t stop there.  This region grows many French/American hybrid grapes like Cayuga White and Chambourcin as well as some native vitis Lambrusca (Native to North America) grapes like Niagara and Catawba.

The lakes from West to East are Canandigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga.  Further east, 2 smaller lakes Conesus and Hemlock are starting to see wineries pop up.

So why plant vineyards by lakes?

Large bodies of water help to moderate temperature, which is this part of the country is essential for growing grapes.  This means that near the lake, the temperatures will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In this region this is especially important during the very cold winters. Without the lakes, moderating the cold, the vines would not survive the winter.

Seneca Lake AVA

Our wine came from the Seneca Lake AVA.  Seneca means Place of the Stone.  The lake is a little less than 38 miles long and is the deepest of the lakes, with a maximum depth of 618 feet.   Over one third of the vines in the Finger Lakes AVA are planted here.

Gorge Train in Watkins Glen, Finger Lakes NY
Gorge Train in Watkins Glen, Finger Lakes NY; Anastasiya, Adobe Stock

More than wine in this area, I would be remiss if I did not mention Watkins Glen State Park, which sits at the Southern end of the lake.  This beautiful park has breath taking scenery with series of waterfalls as the Watkins Creek flows through this gorge.  If you are in the area, this is something you should not miss.

Wagner Vineyards

Photo credits Finger Lakes Wine Country

Our wine came from Wagner Vineyards. Founded in 1979 by Bill Wagner, this was the first winery to open on the east side of Seneca Lake.  But the family and their grape growing experience started long before this.  In fact, the family is into their 5th generation of grape growers.

This is not a small operation.  They have 250 acres of vines and produce 50,000 cases per year.  Hence, why I was able to find them at Total Wine in Las Vegas. But, as they have so many acres under vine, they are 100% estate grown, which can be rare in this region.

Riesling – Wagner Vineyards

Wagner 2013 Select Finger Lakes Riesling
Wagner 2013 Select Finger Lakes Riesling

Our wine was the 2017 Wagner Dry Riesling…well, I thought it was. It’s what I ordered. When I did my curbside pickup, I checked the rather full box to be sure that these were the correct brands, but I did not do the details of the years and the styles. Turns out, they packed a bottle of Wagner Riesling, the 2013 Select. In researching, there really is no price difference, but the Select is decidedly not dry.

This wine was deep lemon in color. The nose hits you with petrol. Once your nose acclimates to the petrol (this can take a bit), you get notes of not quite ripe white peach, and crisp green apple.

I took a sip, before looking at the actual slide rule scale for sweetness on this bottle. The wine had good acid. It was sweet, but the tartness of the acid really balanced this well for me. The palate had honeysuckle, sweet citrus and stone fruit.

This is 100% riesling and is the sweetest version that Wagner produces. Alcohol is 11.4% and SRP $14.99

Pairings for Dry Riesling

We determined we would do a cheese plate with young goat cheese, smoked trout and salmon, green apple, white peach and prosciutto. Goat cheese is a great pairing for dry riesling as well as the smoked fish. The fruits mirror the flavors in the wine.

Goat cheese, apple, salmon, peach, proscuitto with Finger Lakes Riesling
Cheese plate with a Finger Lake Riesling from Wagner

For our main dish, I decided on sauteed spinach and arugula and an Alsatian salmon. Now mind you. I chose these thinking I had a dry riesling. Had I known it was a sweeter style, I might have chosen something with a bit of spice. But, I did enjoy the pairing. I had picked up another dry riesling from Germany to cook with and we had a bit of that left to do a comparison. I found that I enjoyed both pairings equally and perhaps leaned a bit toward the Select.

Ingredients for Alsatian Salmon
Ingredients for Alsatian Salmon

My recipe for the Alsatian Salmon came from Goodie Godmother. I stuck to her recipe and it came out perfectly. Here’s the quick scoop, head to her site for the full recipe. This recipe is quick too! I had 3 pans going on the stove at once and after prepping ingredients, my cook time was around 10 minutes.

Alsatian Salmon
Alsatian Salmon

The salmon cooks skin down in butter, and while that is going, the shallot softens up in butter and olive oil in another pan. Add flour to thicken the shallot mixture a bit and then it gets capers, lemon juice and white wine. By this time you are ready to flip the salmon and hit it with a splash of white wine. The sauce comes off the heat to add the creme and then goes back on low to simmer while the salmon finishes. The dish gets a sprig of dill to finish it off.

#Wine PW

This group led by David Crowley of Cooking Chat meets on the 2nd Saturday of each month. Linda Whipple of My Full Wine Glass, leads our chat this week. You can join us on June 13 at 8 am PST on twitter for our conversation on wines from the Finger Lakes. Just follow the hashtag #WinePW.

Here are the other fabulous pieces shared by the other writers in the Wine Pairing Weekend group. Prepare to have your mouth water!

Sources & Resources

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • advinetures
    Posted at 16:46h, 12 June Reply

    I was excited to read this as I know so little about this region! And what wine lover doesn’t like Riesling?!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 20:09h, 12 June

      It was a region that I have not visited and I was thrilled that this gave me an opportunity to learn more about their wines. There is so much more to learn, with all the other varieties they are growing. After seeing the photos of Watkins Glen, I really want to visit and do some hiking also. It’s such a beautiful region.

  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    Posted at 19:48h, 13 June Reply

    What a great look at the Finger Lakes and loved getting to know Seneca lake a little better. I always love a cheese plate and the salmon looks fantastic. Yum!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 20:09h, 13 June

      I had chosen the goat cheese to pair with the Dry Riesling that I thought I had. It went well with the sweeter riesling also. I look forward to being able to travel again and visiting the region for wine and hiking!

  • Pinny
    Posted at 23:51h, 13 June Reply

    OMG, the salmon with the creamy caper sauce is making me so hungry. What a great idea to pair the Wagner Riesling with salmon. Must be so delish!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 20:40h, 14 June

      It was delicious Pinny and it turned out to be so simple! Michael even liked it and he’s not a capers fan!

  • Lynn
    Posted at 09:21h, 15 June Reply

    Ah, the little snafu encountered turned out ok in the end. Tasting wines with just a little or a lot of RS, yet that have medium to high acidity can be a constructive exercise. I can remember times the acidity fooled me into thinking the wine had much less RS than it did. I said it in IG, I’ll say it again, that salmon dish looks OMG delish!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:25h, 15 June

      Thank you! I was so pleasantly surprised at the balance of the wine. You are right, high acidity can trick you into thinking that the rs is much lower. The salmon dish really was delicious and it was much simpler than I expected!

  • Dracaena Wines
    Posted at 19:18h, 15 June Reply

    It is so true about acidity and RS. I remember another wine from the FLX region. I saw the label and was terrified to try it because of the RS. But it was so perfectly balanced, it turned out it was our favorite.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:03h, 16 June

      It was an unexpected surprise and taught me a lesson about prejudging wines!

  • Pingback:New York Finger Lakes: Wine For Summer Pairings – L'OCCASION
    Posted at 21:40h, 24 June Reply

    […] Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles pairs Finger Lake Riesling and Alsatian Salmon. […]

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